By Bill Garry
Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur
Photo by Ed Krieger
The stage is a constant whirl of motion and noise in Arrival & Departure, the new romantic drama at the Fountain Theatre. The set is a reproduction of a classic New York subway station, although instead of advertising, there are large monitors on every wall.
Commuters rush through, occasionally stopping at a Dunkin' Donuts counter in one corner. It is there that Emily and Sam -- our fated couple -- meet. Emily is in distress, and Sam gallantly comes to the rescue. Their chemistry is strong and, although they are married to other people, they are drawn to test out an attraction that has a powerful, visceral grip on them.
The attraction is not just sexual. Sam is Deaf, with a capital D. He identifies as culturally Deaf and is active in the Deaf community. Sam is an expert in ASL (American Sign Language) and visual communication, and teaches at a school for the deaf. Emily is deaf with a lower-case d. With the aid of high-powered hearing aids, she lives in the world of sound (both her husband and teen daughter are hearing) and speaks both verbally and through ASL. Emily is exhausted by the energy required for her to communicate in both worlds and Sam offers easy validation and acceptance.
Despite all the motion in the background, and subplots regarding another couple and Emily's daughter's flirtation with a boy on the internet, Sam and Emily's struggle with temptation is kept front and center. And you really, really feel it.
That is due to the exceptional combination of actors and script, which was written expressly for the two leads. Deanne Bray (Emily) and Troy Kotsur (Sam) are actors of tremendous talent who -- no surprise -- are married to each other in real life. They transmit their chemistry and intelligence directly into the audience's souls.
Playwright Stephen Sachs' script dives into issues of morality, connection, independence, and personal integrity. Emily's ultra-Christian husband, Doug (well-played by Brian Robert Burns) is a little earnest, a little authoritarian, and a little clueless. Their daughter, Jule (alternately played by Kyra Kotsur -- Ms. Bray and Mr. Kotsur's real-life daughter -- and the authentic Aurelia Myers, who performed opening night), wants what she wants. And that includes a respite from her parents' constant bickering.
Stasha Surdyke, Adam Burch,
Jessica Jade Andres and Shon Fuller
Photo by Ed KriegerThe other romantic subplot provides comic counterpoint to Emily and Sam. Russell the cop (played with sweet swagger and vulnerability by Shon Fuller) courts Mya the Dunkin' Donuts counter girl (a terrific, easy-to-root-for Jessica Jade Andres). Whereas Emily and Sam have easy passion, Russell and Mya have to work at it.
I have to mention two other actors with vitally important roles, even though they enact them in the background. Stasha Surdyke provides the voice of Emily when Emily is using sign language. Adam Burch is the voice of Sam. More than voices, they are avatars. Sitting on the edge of the stage, they convey emotion with their voices, facial expressions and body language. With perfect timing, they mimic the leads so that you forget that they are different people. Ms. Surdyke and Mr. Burch's contribution doubles the relatibility and emotional impact of the show.
Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur (on screen)
Photo by Ed KriegerI also should make clear that the play is performed in spoken English, in ASL, and with supertitles (which is what all the monitors are for.) The opening night audience was a mixed crowd of both deaf and hearing. No doubt, this play will bring those two worlds closer together.
Mr. Sachs is obviously at the top of his game as both writer and director (he is also co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain). The staging, design, integration of supertitles and ASL, never gets ahead of the audience. The Fountain creative team, too many to list here, balance storytelling, design, and technology to create Art.
Arrival & Departure is inspired by the Noel Coward screenplay for Brief Encounter, a 1945 romantic drama. It runs at the Fountain Theatre through September 30.